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The Department of Energy’s New Vision on Wind Power
The future of the U.S. energy supply is looking blustery – and that’s a good thing! On March 12th, the Department of Energy (DOE) released a new report titled Wind Vision: A New Era for Wind Power in the United States. This report builds upon the findings from the department’s 2008 20% Wind by 2030 report. The new report seeks to document the current state of wind energy, predict the future capacity of wind power, and assess the potential economic, environmental, and social benefits of it. The major finding from this recent report is that wind energy will supply at least 20% of electric demand by 2030 and 35% by 2050. In general, the report finds that wind power is an affordable, available source of energy that is beneficial for people and wildlife.
Positive findings from the report
The report focuses on the many economic, environmental, and health benefits that come from an increased use of wind energy. Some highlights are below:
- Wind power will be economically competitive in all 50 states by 2050.
- Wind power has the potential to support over 600,000 jobs by 2050 (it supported 50,000 jobs in 2013)
- The 2050 predictions find a 14% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, saving $400 billion in avoided global damages and helping to protect communities and wildlife from threats of climate change.
- Shifting to clean energy sources like wind reduces air pollution. The report estimates that achieving 35% production by 2050 will save $108 billion and 21,700 premature deaths through reduced emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter.
- Increased wind energy production benefits community revenue through lease and property tax payments, predicted to reach $3.2 billion annually by 2050.
- This switch to wind energy would also reduce water consumption by 23% in the electric power sector.
Turning to America’s largest untapped clean energy opportunity, the report recognizes that globally, offshore wind power reached 6.5 gigawatts in 2013. The U.S. is finally about to get in the game with the Block Island Wind Farm on track to begin construction this summer. The report predicts that offshore wind power capacity will reach 86 gigawatts by 2050 – in the US alone! The report also predicts that offshore wind power will expand to all regions of the U.S. including the East Coast, West Coast, Great Lakes, and Gulf of Mexico. The best part? This is all expected to happen while costs for offshore wind energy decrease by over 50% in the next 35 years!
Most importantly, the plan emphasizes careful siting, continued research, and public engagement to support responsible deployment that minimizes or eliminates negative impact to wildlife and local communities. A portion of DOE’s 2016 budget will go towards proactively addressing wildlife impacts from alternative energies. We know that when careful planning is put into practice, offshore wind power development can be one of least harmful forms of energy for wildlife.
What else needs to be done?
The report also includes a “road map” for achieving the 35% by 2050 level which includes nine action areas that will help the U.S. lower costs and remove major hurdles to wind power. Some of these action areas include technology advancement, expanding developable areas, and workforce development.
Though the report outlines a robust wind energy future, with all of the growth and success the wind industry has had in the past several years (wind capacity tripled since DOE’s 2008 report!), 35% wind in 2050 might seem a little low. This is largely because the report is a conservative and achievable data-driven estimate of where the industry will be without significant policy incentives or major technological breakthroughs. However, extending or implementing critical wind incentives such as the Production Tax Credit and Investment Tax Credits and ground breaking policies like the Clean Power Plan or renewable portfolio standards are bound to help decrease near-term costs and further expand the potential of wind energy – so stay tuned!